The famed venue The Hollywood Bowl lies in ashes and dust. A firestorm blew through the venue this evening. It may sound corny, but it’s really not. Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela laid waste to the iconic mega spot, burning the place to the ground with their uncanny ability and immense talent. Accompanied this evening by the legendary L.A. Philharmonic Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the duo made up of Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero demonstrated with power, finesse and grace their unparalleled skill level. The orchestra’s presence and a few key special guests they invited out alone would have been enough to make this a night to be remembered, but the duo exhibit an almost shocking knack to render their unique music as if they were painting with the most elaborate color palette ever. There is nary an element left unexplored by these two acoustic guitarists. It is indeed, all left on the table by the end of the show. By the time it was all done, they made masterful use of key guests, former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman and current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. However, it’s never been made more apparent than by the firepower the group unloaded here: they are superstars in the making, destined to be of the legendary status capable of headlining stadiums around the world.
The evening opened with a brief twenty minute set featuring just the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Wilkins led the H.B.O. through a series of symphonic numbers heavily inspired by various pockets of Latin culture and music. “Danza Fantastica” by Enrique Soro and “A Chegada Dos Candangos” by the illustrious Antonio Carlos Jobim delighted the audience with a vibrant, colorful array of instrumentation. It was the “Love Theme” from El Cid by Miklós Rózsa that connected the most powerfully, the arrangement a wondrous confection that was both moving and exotic.
A short twenty-minute intermission followed allowing the stage to be set for the headliners to arrive. Near the end of the intermission, “The Pot,” one of Tool’s crushing mega hits from 10,000 Days played over the house speakers. As the song’s conclusion approached and Maynard James Keenan’s epic scream “Ganja, please / You must have been out your mind” rolled out, Rodrigo y Gabriela appropriately walked on stage to massive cheers. Professional wrestlers couldn’t dream up a better entrance theme. With Rodrigo giving a deft nod to conductor Thomas Wilkins they began in earnest with one of the greats from their 2009 album 11:11, “Santo Domingo” (itself a nod to pianist Michel Camilo). With the orchestra’s support the song quickly mutates from plucky fun into explosive power. Gabriela’s percussive snap is the backbone of next song “Savitri” as Rodrigo nimbly dances around a jubilant scale. As with many of their best cuts, it transforms subtly into a moving and joyful finale.
Rodrigo takes a moment to comment on the current state of the band here, indicating they’re half way in the middle of a new album. He quips, “We have no reason to be here… apart from taking your money. We’re Mexicans,” to a large laugh from the capacity crowd on hand. They shift gears briefly to allow Gabriela to play lead for the arpeggio-laden “Logos.” It serves as the springboard–and perfect transition–for the absolutely ballistic “Hora Zero.” It’s easy to envision most of the guitar players in the audience going, “Aww, c’mon,” after watching Rodrigo’s fretwork on this massive number. In the song’s final third he plays an interlocking series of solos, somehow impossibly traversing a mind-boggling series of combinations.
A new song follows, tentatively titled “Waiting to Be Free.” Amazingly, this one features vocals by Rodrigo himself. It is an entirely different formula from their canon thus far; the chords Rodrigo plays on this one are mostly full bodied rather than expansive scales. He sings with impressive clarity, “So long / since you’ve been gone.” After that pleasant surprise, things ratchet up a notch even more so. Gabriela introduces with pride a musician they describe as a “hero” to them in their early years, Marty Friedman formerly of Megadeth. Friedman comes out sporting an electric guitar and joins the band for a positively mind blowing rendition of Tango legend Astor Piazolla’s “Oblivion.” Here Rodrigo, Gabriela and Marty Friedman take turns leading the song, each providing a distinct, unmistakable stamp on the tune’s sonic brilliance. Megadeth fans aware of Friedman’s reputation–there’s an argument to be made that he was a vital part of two immaculate Megadeth records, Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction–will be overjoyed to hear his precision and fretwork was nothing short of utter mastery. There were moments in this collaboration alone where hearing his electric lead alongside Rodrigo’s would have been worth the price of the entire show. Anyone out there listening, let’s get a campaign going to have Marty Friedman formally join Rodrigo y Gabriela.
“Oblivion” with Marty Friedman
At this point the duo thanked the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Thomas Wilkins and they left the stage. The remainder of the show would be performed as they normally do, just the two of them. They ratcheted up the pace with their 11:11 cut “Hanuman,” a song with such elaborate transitions it lights up the venue and makes the two players sound as large as if they were a whole orchestra themselves. Halfway through, the crowd rises to its feet and joyously claps along. Early career, self-titled album track “Diablo Rojo” comes next bringing more of the band’s sonic fury and intricate melodic interplay to bear.
The night’s second mega surprise comes next in the form of legendary Suicidal Tendencies and now Metallica bassist, Robert Trujillo. Trujillo takes the stage and grabs the mic to insist the duo play a true metal song. Fitting given Friedman’s inclusion earlier in the evening, Rodrigo y Gabriela hammer out an excellent abbreviated instrumental take on Megadeth’s “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.” After that, with Trujillo now on bass they dive into a medley of classic Metallica songs. First up is almost the entirety of the classic cut “Orion.” True Metallica heads/Cliff Burton fans will be elated to know that all of the best basslines in the song were present. For the breakdown when things quiet halfway through, they sat together stage center and perfectly rendered the melodic interplay. After that, they included choice segments of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Battery” from Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets respectively. As they worked towards the frenetic finale on “Battery” Rodrigo even found space to include the first eight notes of the opening/ending of “Ride the Lightning.”
“Orion” with Robert Trujillo
“Orion” with Robert Trujillo
“Battery” with Robert Trujillo
After all that, there was time enough just for one more new song and an encore. First came new song “Somos de Arena,” a track Gabriela dedicated to the “43 students in Mexico.” She didn’t go into details, but she indicated that with this next song “We can put some better good vibes (sic) into the world and we think that’s important.” For those unfamiliar with what she’s referring to head here to learn more. The encore was their career-starting hit “Tamacun” from their self-titled album. It was a stunning conclusion to a monstrous night of music, in that it somehow embodied elements of almost every song over the course of the evening: a heart-warming spirit, incredible technical acumen and all-out feeling of unbridled catharsis. The crowd stands. A loud, endless cheer proceeds as AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” plays over the house loud speakers as they exit.
To make a bizarre comparison, there is a workmanship at play here rarely seen in any popular or independent band. Sure, many bands will tour relentlessly and cut album after album, but few performances we’ve seen since Jamie XX’s role in The XX’s stunning headline performance at the Hollywood Bowl three years ago even come close to what happened on this evening. Simply put, Rodrigo y Gabriela are working so hard, playing with such skill and power, determined to enrapture every person in attendance, they almost make everyone else out there look lazy. Gogol Bordello can tear the roof of a venue too in their own manic, party way. Yet this is its own animal. Something never quite seen before. They are superstars in the making and they will find themselves headlining the biggest venues on Earth before long.